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Green Party Presidential Candidate Jill Stein Stands With Anti-Pipeline Group to Defend Protest Tactics

The fight to stop the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission from rubber-stamping gas pipeline permits is escalating.


An environmental group fired back at a Republican Senator who singled them out at a committee hearing on Tuesday for employing tactics which he insinuated were on par with terrorism. The organization, Beyond Extreme Energy (BXE), in turn accused Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) of “McCarthyite, fear-mongering tactics” when he targeted them during a Senate hearing related to oil and gas pipeline permitting. While the Republican national security hawk painted BXE as extremists, Jill Stein, presidential candidate for the Green Party, instead came out in its defense.

During a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Sen. Barrasso lambasted BXE for “engaging” the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) with “highly questionably tactics.” He objected to BXE’s hand-delivering mail to the houses of FERC officials and posting their home addresses online. BXE is a group which routinely criticizes FERC for approving gas pipeline infrastructure and ignoring how the agency’s decisions affect landowners, the environment and the necessity to transition to renewable energy sources.

BXE has disrupted the agency’s monthly public meetings, blockaded its Washington, DC headquarters and even held an 18-day fast there. In February, they decided on a strategy to “escalate” by visiting the homes of the four FERC commissioners because they believed the agency was “non-responsive,” according to BXE member Ted Glick. Their actions have included delivering Valentine’s Day cards to their doors, leafleting neighbors, serving food, posting flyers with photos of the Commissioners, and serving mock eminent domain notices.

Beyond Extreme Energy activists serve potluck dinner at FERC Chairman Norman Bay’s house./Photo by Anne Meador

Largely due to BXE’s decision to protest at commissioners’ homes, FERC barred the publicfrom attending its monthly public meeting in May. BXE complained that members of the gas industry were still invited to the meeting.

Sen. Barrasso quoted a BXE press release from May saying that the group would “target” FERC commissioners at their homes and “hold them accountable for their decisions.”

“I find these tactics in today’s world to be troubling, very dangerous,” he said.

He also demanded that Jonathan Perress, air policy director at Environmental Defense Fund(EDF), “denounce” BXE’s tactics on behalf of all environmental organizations. “Is [the environmental community] waiting for a public official, a FERC-confirmed individual or his family or her family and they get hurt, is that the plan?” Sen. Barrasso asked.

“It’s highly unfortunate,” Perress said, clearly taken aback.

Sen. Barrasso made a tenuous connection between BXE and EDF, pointing out that they were co-signing organizations of a letter last fall. But BXE member Steve Norris said that the group “hasn’t worked with the Environmental Defense Fund in any close way that I know of.”

“Our objective is not to make them afraid,” Norris added with respect to BXE’s visits to commissioners’ homes. “Our objective is to get them to wake up to the fact that things are going on in this country that FERC is permitting, that industry is pushing really hard.”

In a press release, BXE said Sen. Barrasso posed a threat to constitutionally protected speech, and the group maintained “a strict policy of nonviolence.”

Potlucks and Pipelines

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein joined activists in front of the residence of the FERC Chairman./ Photo by Anne Meador

Undaunted, BXE returned to FERC Chairman Norman Bay’s residence near DuPoint Circle on Wednesday evening to serve food to passersby and offer them leaflets outlining reasons why they believe FERC is a “broken agency” serving the interests of the gas industry. This time, they were joined by Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein.

Stein had shown up unannounced to the event unaware of Sen. Barrasso’s remarks at the hearing. She emphasized however that action was necessary in light of the “all-out emergency” of climate change.

“Truth to tell, I would rather not have to do this. But on the other hand, we’re looking at not just disruption of our lives, we’re looking at the actual end of civilization as we know it,” she said. “And if we don’t mobilize right now, we’re in trouble.”

She pointed to an “Oh-my-God report” on glacier melting which predicts as much as nine feet of sea level rise by 2050, potentially rendering coastal cities uninhabitable.

Natural gas is composed primarily of methane, a greenhouse gas 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. The severity of methane leaks from pipelines, storage and wells has been greatly underestimated.

Nibbling on watermelon, Stein disagreed with Sen. Barrasso that their presence at Chairman Norman Bay’s home was in any way sinister. “We are not here picketing, we are not here threatening people. We are here offering people food and congenial conversation,” she said. “So this is not like a Donald Trump event. We are not coming out with our fists and God know what else and our violent mentality. We’re really here to talk to people, to engage one-on-one as human beings… Our corporate, corrupt political parties are not going to do this for us. We need to do it ourselves.”

Sen. Barrasso has received contributions to his campaign committee and leadership PAC over the past five years totaling $560,466 from the oil and gas industry and $287,456 from the mining industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Asked about BXE’s planned event at its Chairman’s home, a FERC spokesperson declined to comment.

Gas Refugee

Maggie Henry says she has been “radicalized” after losing her organic farm to fracking and gas pipelines./ Photo by Anne Meador

FERC’s ability to grant gas companies powers of eminent domain to build or expand pipelines has angered many “ordinary” people around the country and driven them to adopt strategies of protest they might never have contemplated before.

Maggie Henry, who alternately served up food and held one end of a banner in front of Chairman Bay’s residence, describes herself as a “gas refugee.” She had an organic farm near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border surrounded by fracking wells. A 40-inch diameter pipeline ran only 30 feet from the door of her house. Her farmhouse regularly shook from earthquakes which she said ruined the integrity of the basement foundation. (Fracking and fracking waste wellscan cause earthquakes.) She feared the pipeline would explode.

“Fracking has destroyed my life. When you steal from me the right to raise my grandchildren on the land that their parents worked on… I’ve been radicalized,” she said. “I don’t have a violent bone in my body, so I’m a danger to no one. But there’s nothing I won’t do.” She blamed gas companies and FERC officials who “permit everything.”

“They’ve stolen everything from me. They’ve destroyed everything we worked our entire adult lives for,” Henry continued. “We borrowed half a million dollars and sunk it into this farm and spent the next 20 years slaving to pay that off. And it’s gone, it’s just gone.”

Escalating Tactics

Nonviolent protesters and those objecting to pipelines being built on their land may be escalating tactics, but what is often overlooked is that police are escalating too.

Henry described rough treatment by police when she was arrested protesting at the inauguration of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf in January 2015. She was also present when U.S. marshals showed up with AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifles to escort tree cutters onto a maple syrup farm in Pennsylvania in March. Williams Partners LP had gotten permission from FERC to clear a path for the Constitution Pipeline in Pennsylvania, although it still had not obtained a necessary permit in New York. Only days after the trees were cut down on the farm, Williams Partners announced that construction of the Constitution Pipeline would be delayed several months. Later, New York’s Department of Environmental Quality denied the permit, leaving the fate of the Constitution Pipeline in limbo.

There have been other disturbing developments, such as the revelation that a gas company paid a local Pennsylvania police department to deter protests and prevent costly delays to a pipeline upgrade.

Revolt

FERC seems confident that it is providing ample opportunity for public participation in decisions on pipelines, compressor stations, storage and LNG terminals. It is however facing an unprecedented revolt. Earlier this week, for example, a public meeting on the expansion of the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline in Lancaster, Pa., descended into chaos, and FERC representatives were driven from the room.

On Thursday, three people from BXE disrupted the FERC commissioner’s monthly public meeting as usual. Following that, about a dozen people affiliated with BXE visited Sen. Barrasso’s office and met with an aide.


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The Stream, June 16: Maharashtra Studies Plan To Link Dams

The-Stream-Circle-of-Blue

The-Stream-Circle-of-BlueThe Global Rundown Maharashtra, one of the states most severely affected by India’s drought, is considering a plan to link a number of major dams and manage them through a centralized distribution system. Wastewater from fracking operations in the United Kingdom may be released into the sea after treatment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned […]

The post The Stream, June 16: Maharashtra Studies Plan To Link Dams appeared first on Circle of Blue.



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Mark Ruffalo Urges President Obama to Keep Fossil Fuels in the Ground in Gripping New Documentary

Under President Obama’s watch, many Americans have felt the risks and harms of the drilling and fracking boom. “Dear President Obama” introduces him to many of the victims.


I recently attended a film screening of “Dear President Obama, The Clean Energy Revolution Is Now,” a new documentary narrated by actor and activist Mark Ruffalo about the impact of hydraulic fracturing across the United States. Commonly referred to as “fracking,” it is a controversial drilling process to access oil and natural gas—primarily methane—trapped in underground shale deposits. While the fracking boom has created jobs and stimulated the economy, numerous studies have linked it to numerous environmental and health impacts.

The evening was hosted by ABC Home in downtown Manhattan, six huge stories of furniture and craft—with a mission where environment and social justice are just as much on the agenda as beauty and quality. The screening, held at a nearby AMC Theater, was followed by a discussion with an energized crowd led by Ruffalo and director Jon Bowermaster at Deepak Homebase, a salon-style meeting space at ABC Home named after author and mindfulness master Deepak Chopra, where many events are held to promote public discourse on a variety of important issues facing our time.

A direct appeal to the president to ban fracking, the film urges Obama (and all elected officials) to join the growing “anti-drilling” movement across the U.S. and accept the reality that the only reasonable energy policy is to leave the majority of fossil fuels in the ground, a position held by many leading scientists.

Filmed in over twenty states and featuring more than 120 interviews with scientists, economists, health professionals and activists, “Dear President Obama” is, importantly, about the people and families impacted by fracking, whose deeply personal stories are often overlooked by the mainstream media. These are the stories that Ruffalo and Bowermaster, the film’s co-producers, want Obama to hear.

Ths film also firmly establishes Ruffalo, who helped spearhead the utlimately successful movement in his home state of New York to ban fracking, as a powerful and inspirational advocate of renewable energy.

Mark Ruffalo holding a jug of water from Dimock, Pennsylvania, that has been contaminated by fracking. (image: Jessica Riehl/Dear President Obama)

The film opens with a sobering statistic: “More than 17 million Americans live within one mile of a gas or oil well.” That is followed by a series of clips of President Obama that reveal a schizophrenic outlook on climate and energy. On one hand, the president acknowledges the negative impact of fossil fuels, as he did in May 2009 during remarks on new federal fuel efficiency standards, saying that “ending our dependence on fossil fuels represents perhaps our most difficult challenge we have ever faced.” 

Then, in another clip, the president casts himself as a champion of renewable energy at a White House press conference in February 2010, saying, “I am very firm in my conviction that the country that leads the way in clean energy—solar, wind, biodiesel, geothermal—that country is going to win the race on the 21st-century global economy.”

But then, he goes on to promote an “all-of-the-above” energy policy, as he did two years later during his 2012 State of the Union Address:

American oil production is the highest that it’s been in eight years. … We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years. … This country needs an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy.

As the president uttered that last line, most members of Congress erupted in vigorous applause, many giving him a standing ovation. Indeed, who among them could deny the allure of ending America’s dependence on foreign oil (which accounts for around 40 percent of the nation’s annual petroleum consumption), while at the same time creating jobs (the numbers of which have regularly been overstated by the oil and gas industry)?

Visiting Las Vegas two days after his State of the Union, Obama described America as “the Saudi Arabia of natural gas,” calling on the nation to use natural gas to fuel more vehicles. (Currently, natural gas is primarily used as a residential and commercial heating fuel.) The president’s comments came on the heels of his announcement of the sale of oil and gas leases to the fossil fuel industry to drill across almost 38 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico.

“We have a record number of oil rigs operating right now,” he said a month a later during a speech at the University of Miami about energy policy and gas prices. “More working oil and gas rigs than the rest of the world combined.”

Then shortly after that, during a speech at Prince George’s Community College in Largo, Maryland, Obama said, “So do not tell me that we’re not drilling. We’re drilling all over this country.”

The film then shows the president two years later, delivering his 2014 State of the Union Address, recasting himself again, this time as a climate warrior: “Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.” Again, big applause from the members of Congress.

As the film makes clear, Obama’s climate rhetoric is at loggerheads with his “all-of-the-above” energy policy.

“He’s trying to have it both ways,” says Richard Heinberg, Senior Fellow at the Post Carbon Institute and author of “Afterburn: Society Beyond Fossil Fuels,” in the film. “Please the oil and gas industry, lower energy prices by producing more oil and gas. But on the other hand, regulate the coal industry to reduce emissions. It’s not that simple.”

One complication is the rising demand for natural gas. On June 6, natural gas prices rose to a new five-month high. “The recent forecast of a hotter summer is expected to increase the air conditioning requirements leading to increased gas-powered electricity,” notes Rakesh Upadhyay, a writer for Divergente, a consulting firm.

Natural gas “has increasingly become used to power electric utilities and in 2015, tied coal as the leading fuel source,” writes Robert Boslego, an energy price risk management expert, on Seeking Alpha. “As a result, its demand rises during the summer with electricity used to power air conditioners.”

Fracking activity has left deep scars across California’s landscape. (image: Les Stone/Dear President Obama)

Much to the perturbation of fracktivists and renewable energy advocates, the president and his “all-of-the-above” supporters staunchly believe that fracking is key to the nation’s energy security—that it’s a “bridge” fuel that will evenutally get us to the promised land of renewable energy. However, the fact remains that pursuing natural gas maintains the nation’s dependence of fossil fuels and delays much-needed investments in clean, renewable sources of energy.

I recently talked to Josh Fox, director of “Gasland”, a 2010 documentary that helped launch the anti-fracking movement, and more recently, “How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change” (airing on HBO on June 27) about the notion of natural gas acting as “bridge to clean energy,” a concept supported by both President Obama and Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton. Fox, who was also interviewed in “Dear President Obama,” slammed the “bridge fuel” idea as “completely deceptive.” He said:

The bridge fuel argument means we’re going to switch our entire electricity sector to fracked natural gas. That means building 300 fracked gas power plants around America. That means hundreds of thousands of miles of pipelines. It means probably 2 million new fracking wells. And those power plants aren’t financed for five years. They’re financed, like most people’s houses, for 30 or 40 years. That’s a regime change in American energy to fracking.

What’s more, the idea that natural gas is a “clean” fuel, simply because it burns cleaner than coal, completely misses the fact that the fracking process releases its main target, methane, into the atmosphere. Can the president truly be serious about tackling climate change when he supports a fossil fuel drilling method that unleashes a greenhouse gas that the EPA says is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period?

Part of the economic allure of natural gas is that it is seen as the logical next step from crude oil, prices of which have plummeted, resulting in sharp downturns for oil companies.

As New York Times national business correspondent Clifford Krauss recently wrote:

Earnings are down for companies that made record profits in recent years, leading them to decommission more than two-thirds of their rigs and sharply cut investment in exploration and production. Scores of companies have gone bankrupt and an estimated 250,000 oil workers—roughly half in the United States—have lost their jobs. The cause is the plunging price of a barrel of oil, which at one point fell more than 70 percent compared with June 2014 levels.

But forecasting the natural gas market based on plummeting crude oil prices is not an easy task; indeed, there may be little connection between the two.

“Based on the price patterns observed over the last decade, it is difficult to make definite conclusions about the correlation between crude oil and natural gas prices,” writes Shobhit Seth, a financial writer and derivatives trader, on Investopedia. However, he notes that “the natural gas market, in the form of liquid natural gas is expected to grow dramatically in coming years, which will perhaps result in gas becoming a global energy commodity.”

Dirk, a resident of Conway, Arkansas, who was interviewed in the film, with a map identifying the sites of earthquakes in his state that are believed to have been caused by fracking. (image: Dear President Obama)

In the film, Ruffalo suggests that Obama’s warm embrace of fracking tarnishes his green credentials—in addition to fattening the fossil fuel dynasty that has already caused so much environmental harm, from the Exxon Valdez spill to the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. “Though the United States has a long relationship with the oil and gas industry going back more than a century,” Ruffalo says, “today’s new extreme energy extraction gold rush may prove to be the president’s most profound and possibly most damaging environmental legacy.”

During the lively post-screening discussion at ABC Home’s Deepak Homebase, Ruffalo and Bowermaster talked about the film and the state of the anti-fracking movement. Ruffalo described the movement’s three primary goals: “One is to keep [fossil fuels] in the ground. Two is to build up renewable energy as fast as we can. And three is to shut down places that are using gas-fired power plants.”

He also talked about the unique situation in his home state of New York, so far the only state sitting on large shale reserves that has banned fracking:

In New York we’re very fortunate. We have a governor who’s willing to keep it in the ground very much because of the pressure that a lot of the people in this room put on him, very much because of the scientific community who really stepped up with creating a space for us to say that this is wrong. Very much because of health studies that created a compendium of health studies, science studies, that basically showed how horrible this was for the earth’s sake. Our governor had the guts to lead and lead the nation and ban fracking. Now we’re also leading the nation in renewable energy.

While President Obama’s presidency is drawing to an end, the hot-button issue of fracking—and its various impacts—will long outlive his term. “Though nominally targeting the current President,” Bowermaster said, “the message of the film is aimed at every elected official in the U.S. ‘Keep fossil fuels in the ground’ should be the new mantra for them all.”

Since 2008, during Obama’s tenure in the White House, American drilling and fracking industries have undergone a boom. Proponents of fossil fuel had argued that this newfangled “gold rush” would establish the nation’s long sought-after energy independence. But, as the film points out, the oil and gas industry has always been a boom-and-bust industry. In the past year, with plunging oil and gas prices, Big Oil has been forced to close rigs and lay off workers. In fact, the real impact of the boom is that it delayed investments in new sources of renewable energy, like wind, solar, hydro and geothermal.

“The idea that natural gas is going to be a bridge fuel is…an actual game playing to our demise,” said Ruffalo at the post-screening discussion. “Anything that we thought that we would gain by burning the cute little blue flame is completely obliterated by what what we lose in methane leakage, by transportation of methane, by leaking of the pipelines, by leaking when we’re drilling it. Methane will be our demise.”

While “Dear President Obama” ably takes viewers through the science and politics behind fracking, it is the stories of everyday people whose lives have been harmed by the process that animate the film’s emotional center.

“Bradford and Susquehanna County had the two best air qualities in the state of Pennsylvania before [fracking] started,” said Matt, a resident of Franklin Forks, Pennsylvania, who was interviewed in the film along with his partner Tammy. “Now Bradford County and Susquehanna County have the worst quality of air in the whole state. … A year after we moved into here, one day, all of a sudden, our water turned all gray. And our neighbors’ water turned all gray. Our well filled with methane and turned black. Our well was actually erupting like a geyser because there was so much methane in it.”

In the fracking process, water mixed with a complex cocktail of chemicals is injected deep into underground shale deposits, where is creates fissures in the rock to release the methane trapped inside. On its way down and back up to the surface again, this mixture picks up all sorts of other chemicals, some of which, like benzene, are known carcinogens. Water contamination is one of the main byproducts of fracking.

“We haven’t had any water for six years,” said Ray, a resident of Dimock, Pennsylvania, who was interviewed in the film, along with his partner Victoria. “This place is spoiled now. I can’t leave it to my kids. For what? So they can keep hauling water the rest of their lives? The government can have it back, if they want it so goddamn bad.”

A recent federal re-analysis of drinking well samples taken from Dimock in 2012 found that there was fracking contamination and health and explosion risk, contradicting a previous EPA study that found the water safe.

In California, a farmer tends crops right next to a fracking site. Oil and gas companies have been selling treated fracking wastewater to the state’s farmers to grow crops (photo: Les Stone/Dear President Obama)

“This is rural America. It’s country,” said Rebecca, a resident of Brooklyn Township, Pennsylvania. “We’re a marginalized sub-population and our lives are not valued as much as people living in dense areas like a city. We’re disposable. My life is disposable. And that’s really difficult to fight. …To change the regulations, the FERC [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] regulations, you need legislators. And for this county, it’s basically a done deal.”

While the film focuses on the dangers of fracking, it also recognizes that fracking is just one part of a bigger problem, as massive drilling plans are underway across the nation. “Companies are drilling deeper, accidents more frequent, dangers constant,” says Ruffalo in the film. “Vast acres of public lands in the deep sea are being drilled at all time highs.”

In keeping with the setup of the film, Ruffalo addresses President Obama directly:

In order to try and put coal out of business, you sided with natural gas. But the shale gas boom that many said would be a bridge to a new energy future has turned out to be nothing more than a dead end. By trying to please everyone, I’m afraid that your “all-of-the-above” energy policy has left many millions of Americans in harm’s way. … We must join together to shift the power and change our energy system. The time is now to reposer out country with energy from the sun, the wind and the water. The time for a clean energy revolution is now.

The film reiterates one of the mantras of the clean energy movement: The U.S. can transition to 100% renewable energy by 2050. There are many positive signs, not least of which is the fact that New York—which, like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, sits atop the natural gas-rich Marcellus shale formation—enacted a fracking ban. The eventual passage of ban, many years in the making, revealed the true power of grassroots activism, inspiring fracktivists around the nation and the globe. “Looking back decades from now, the battle fought here may be remembered as the first great victory in the clean energy revolution,” says Ruffalo in the film.

He also points out that Iowa generates 27 percent of it energy from wind. That California’s fleet of electric cars is solar-powered. (Since 2010, the state’s Clean Vehicle Rebate Project has put over 100,000 clean vehicles on California’s roads.) And, that “more jobs are being created in renewable energy industries than in oil and gas extraction.”

“Solutions to our energy quandary are available today,” Ruffalo argues. “But what is required is a plan. A vision. A bold leader.”

So far, Obama has fallen short. When it comes to the environment, he has done some good things. He has fought Big Coal and called out climate deniers. But the president’s “all-of-the-above” energy policy—which includes opening the Arctic and the Gulf of Mexico to new offshore drilling—has kept the nation’s addiction to fossil fuel firmly intact, effectively postponing the clean energy revolution that environmentalists argue is needed right now.

Of course, a bold leader is needed. But, as Ruffalo acknowledges in the film, “If we want to keep moving to a future free of fossil fuels, then real change must come from ourselves.”

Young fracktivists in California. The state’s recent methane gas leak, in Los Angeles, was the worst man-made greenhouse gas disaster in U.S. history. (image: Dear President Obama)

We all need and use energy. But there are choices that we can make to reduce our impact. Business owners and homeowners can ask their electricity provider to offer renewable energy as an option to include in their energy portfolios. Voters in shale-bearing states can join activist groups to ban fracking, as they did in New York. Consumers can measure their personal carbon footprint with a goal to make it smaller.

During the post-screening discussion, Bowermaster challenged the audience to look in the mirror, acknowledging that “this is where people kind of start looking at their feet.” He said, “Think about what you have done personally in the last six months to lessen your impact and your demand for fossil fuel.” He may have been preaching to the choir just a little bit: It’s a fairly safe bet that most of the gathered attendees have thought about such things. And scattered through the crowd were several front-line activists working on green initiatives from Pennsylvania to Colorado.

Still, his point is well taken. Indeed, leaders are needed, and not just in the White House, Capitol Hill and legislatures and governorships in every state, as well as on the front lines of grassroots activism. We as citizens must have the courage to show leadership in our own lives, in our own families, in our own circles.

While much of the film will leave viewers in dismay at the harsh impacts of fracking, one segment of the film in particular offers inspiration for those thinking about becoming involved in the nationwide movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground. In that segment, Richard Schrader, Political and Legislative Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, speaks to a group of activists gathered in Albany, energized and jubilant after receiving the news that Governor Andrew Cuomo had just signed the state’s fracking ban into law. He said:

We were here in 2009 with Mark Ruffalo and Pete Seeger, really the kickoff … that infused the spirit of the grassroots part of this whole campaign. … And without that energy, grit, determination and guts, we wouldn’t be here today. … This is a momentous victory. Don’t forget that. And we beat an extraordinarily rich, extraordinarily powerful adversary. The same adversaries are going to try to fight us as we move forward on renewables. They’re trying to kill wind in Washington. They’re trying to kill solar in Washington. They tried to kill solar in this state but they failed. But you know something? We beat them then, we beat them yesterday, we’ll beat them tomorrow as well.

The crowd cheered. But for many long-suffering Americans whose lives have already been irreparably damaged by the fracking boom, the fossil fuel regime has already won. For them, there is no cheering. Just hopelessness and resignation.

“It’s getting bigger and it’s getting noisier. And that noise probably won’t go away,” said Jonathan, a resident of West Union, West Virginia, who was interviewed in the film. As wild birds chirped in the densely wooded area around his property, he described the steady growth of a pump station near his house, where his grandfather used to work. “There’s not a whole lot you can do about it, because I’m just a landowner.”

“The rape of Appalachia ain’t nothing new,” he added. “If they showed people just a little bit more respect, we could probably swallow it a whole lot easier.”

At the post-screening discussion, Ruffalo spoke for people like Richard and others across the nation who have suffered the impacts of fracking. In person, he was every bit the inspirational and animated figure who helped coalesce the anti-fracking movement in New York. Now, with his film, he’s taking his message to the nation. He said to the fired-up New York crowd:

The great story about New York state is we are actually leading the nation in renewable energy build up. … We have the clean power plan that is happening and New Yorkers for Clean Power that is happening right now. I urge you all to be involved in this because this is how we’re going to transition. The faster we can adopt renewable energy the quicker we can stop fossil fuel extraction.

Ruffalo was careful to point out that every American needs to understand this issue, but also acknowledged the necessity to take the message to a global level and build upon the international interest that the film has already generated:

The global scale is obviously very important, but honestly we need to take one step at a time. We need to make sure that everyone in the United States understands this issue first. Because of the slightly provocative name of the film, we’ve had invitations from countries around the world: China, Croatia, Columbia. Wherever there’s a strike unit and fracking going on, they want us to bring this as an educational tool.

Mark Ruffalo at the post-screening discussion at Deepak Homebase, ABC Home, May 25, 2016 (image courtesy Ocean 8 Films)

Amidst a crowd enrapt by his contagious passion, Ruffalo talked about the importance—and difficulty—of becoming an active participant in the clean energy revolution:

To make change happen, we have to stop it ourselves, and that, in some large ways, starts with making ourselves more uncomfortable. …Ultimately [this] is a system where we only take, we take and we take and we take; we do not replenish. It’s not reciprocal and what we’re seeing now is the physical limitations of this system. It’s not going to go backwards; we’re not going to suddenly find some huge amount of some sort of substance that’s all of the sudden going to make us be able to continue taking, taking and taking without putting it back. It’s a systematic problem.

It’s a tough discussion to have, and there’s some very, very important people in this room. This system as a whole is failing us, and it will continue to fail us. Climate change is a reality; the clear crystalline reality of those global economic concepts have come to manifest themselves directly in our lives today, and there’s no turning back. It will force us to have this difficult discussion. The sooner we have it, the better off our children will be, because ultimately, that’s what we’re talking about here. That’s why I’m here.

In a video clip of the president early in the film, President Obama says, “For the sake of our security, our economy and our planet, we must have the courage and commitment to change.” As “Dear President Obama” makes abundantly clear, he has yet to take his own advice. However, Mark Ruffalo, Jon Bowermaster and a growing legion of activists have done just that.

For more information about “Dear President Obama,” including nationwide screening locations and dates, visit: http://www.dearpresidentobama.com.

Watch the trailer:



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More Than 12 Million Americans Are Threatened by Toxic Air Pollution From Oil and Gas Industry: Here’s an Interactive Map

For the first time, Americans across the country can access striking new community-level data on major health risks posed by oil and gas operations across the country.


Two leading national environmental groups—Clean Air Task Force (CATF) and Earthworks—unveiled a suite of tools Wednesday designed to inform and mobilize Americans about the health risks from toxic air pollution from the oil and gas industry.

For the first time, Americans across the country—from Washington County, Pennsylvania, to Weld County, Colorado to Kern County, California—can access striking new community-level data on major health risks posed by oil and gas operations across the country.

The oil and gas industry is the country’s largest and fastest-growing source of methane emissions. And its facilities emit numerous other hazardous and toxic air pollutants along with methane—including benzene, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and ethylbenzene. That toxic pollution presents significant cancer and respiratory health risks, underscoring the need for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to clean up existing sources of toxic air pollution without delay.

The EPA recently signed New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) that for the first time will regulate methane pollution from new and modified oil and gas facilities, preventing some of the sector’s future toxic air pollution from being released. The EPA’s current regulations addressing the industry’s toxic air pollution are limited and the NSPS does not cover the 1.2 million existing facilities in 33 states. CATF’s reportFossil Fumes, and Earthworks’ Oil & Gas Threat Map focus specifically on toxic pollutants from those facilities and their resulting health impacts.

Earthworks Oil & Gas Threat Map Summary

The Oil and Gas Threat Map maps the nation’s 1.2 million active oil and gas wells, compressors and processors. Using the latest peer-reviewed research into the health impacts attributed to oil and gas air pollution, the map conservatively draws a half mile health threat radius around each facility. 

Within that total area are:

  • 12.4 million people
  • 11,543 schools and 639 medical facilities
  • 184,578 square miles, an area larger than California

For each of the 1,459 counties in the U.S. that host active oil and gas facilities, the interactive map reports:

  • instances of elevated cancer and respiratory risk
  • total affected population (with separate counts for Latino & African-Americans)
  • total affected schools and medical facilities

The searchable map allows users to:

  • look up any street address to see if it lies within the health threat radius
  • view infrared videos which makes visible the normally invisible pollution at hundreds of the mapped facilities
  • view 50+ interviews with citizens impacted by this pollution

“The Oil & Gas Threat Map shows that oil and gas air pollution isn’t someone else’s problem, it’s everyone’s problem,” Earthworks executive director Jennifer Krill said.

“Our homes and schools are at risk while most state regulators do nothing. Although completely solving this problem ultimately requires ditching fossil fuels, communities living near oil and gas operations need the EPA to cut methane and toxic air pollution from these operations as soon as possible.”

Clean Air Task Force Fossil Fumes Report Summary


Fossil Fumes, CATF’s companion report to Earthworks’ Oil and Gas Threat Map, is based on EPA’s recent National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA) analysis updated to reflect the latest emissions data from EPA’s National Emissions Inventory (NEI) and the conclusions are striking.

The report finds that:

  • 238 counties in 21 states face a cancer risk that exceeds EPA’s one-in-a-million threshold level of concern
  • Combined, these counties have a population of more than 9 million people and are mainly located in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Colorado
  • Of these counties, 43 face a cancer risk that exceeds one in 250,000 and two counties in West Texas (Gaines and Yoakum) face a cancer risk that exceeds one in 100,000
  • 32 counties, primarily in Texas and West Virginia, also face a respiratory health risk from toxic air emissions that exceeds EPA’s level of concern (with a hazard index greater than one)

“The Fossil Fumes report and Earthwork’s Interactive Threat Map will allow concerned citizens to learn the cancer and respiratory risks they face from toxic air pollution from the oil and gas industry,” Lesley Fleischman, CATF technical analyst and author of Fossil Fumes, said. “Armed with this information, we trust that citizens and communities will demand protective safeguards requiring industry to clean up its act and reduce these serious risks to public health.”

“The Oil & Gas Threat Map and Fossil Fumes are outstanding tools for nurses, their patients and affected communities to better understand the health risks posed by oil and gas facilities,” Katie Huffling, director of programs for the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, said.

“As nurses, we are especially concerned by the number of schools and hospitals revealed to be within a half mile of an active oil and gas facility. The best available science shows that methane and toxic chemicals emitted by these facilities threaten our most vulnerable citizens, which is why we encourage the EPA to quickly address this pollution.”

Other key findings of the map and report at the statewide level include:

  • Los Angeles County, California is home to the most impacted “vulnerable” populations: there are more impacted schools and hospitals in Los Angeles than any other county in America (226 schools and 60 hospitals)
  • There are particularly widespread impacts in Texas, with 15 counties with more than 75 percent of their populations living within ½ mile risk radius and 32 percent of Texas counties have elevated oil and gas health risks (82 out of 254)
  • Almost 25 percent of all Pennsylvanians live within the half-mile threat radius

“The Oil & Gas Threat Map and Fossil Fumes show more than 12 million Americans need protection from oil and gas industry air pollution as soon as possible. Industry talks about voluntarily reducing their pollution, but refuses to make binding commitments,” Earthworks policy director Lauren Pagel said.

“Some states like Colorado have stepped up, but other states like Texas have vowed never to regulate greenhouse gases and associated toxics. It is only the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that can act to protect all Americans, their health and the climate from this pollution.”



addtoany20

MSNBC Show Worked to Promote Fracking, Internal Documents Reveal (Video)

Host Dylan Ratigan was hostile to anti-fracking activist Josh Fox, while giving a warm reception to oil and gas industry hedge fund tycoon T. Boone Pickens, now a fundraiser for Donald Trump.


Cable TV network MSNBC has made headlines in recent days for apparently moving away from its “Lean Forward” progressive brand, catering instead to a more center-to-right-leaning crowd. 

People might start accusing us of leaning too far to the right,” the station says in a new advertisement featuring MSNBC’s conservative personalities — an array of Republican identities such as Michael Steele, Steve Schmidt and Ben Ginsberg. 

But on the issue of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for shale oil and gas, documents from 2011 obtained under Oklahoma’s Open Records Act demonstrate that the network saw itself as a promoter of both the controversial drilling method and natural gas vehicles. 

NBC Universal, at the time, was owned on a 49-percent basis by the natural gas utility and electricity company General Electric (GE) and is now wholly owned by Comcast.

The documents, obtained from Oklahoma State University (OSU), relate to the filming of an episode of “The Dylan Ratigan Show” on the OSU campus in April 2011. The episode came two and a half years before the network announced in late-2013 that its website would run native advertisements (content that looks like original news) on behalf of fracking lobbying group America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA). ANGA is now part of the American Petroleum Institute (API). 

That episode of Ratigan’s show featured oil and gas industry hedge fund tycoon T. Boone Pickens, who now serves as a fundraiser for Republican Party presidential candidate Donald Trump, and who was stumping at the time for his pro-fracking “Pickens Plan.” The emails offer a rare look inside the making of an episode of a popular MSNBC show and a glimpse into a future business relationship, too.

“Steel on Wheels”

The April 2011 episode of Ratigan was part of a broader “Steel on Wheels” tour MSNBC pushed at the time featuring Ratigan, whose show is no longer on-air. The tour, conducted on a bus and catching media attention for being a sponsored partnership with steel company Nucor, looked to find “solutions to the most pressing problems facing America today.”

“I am committed to getting this country back on track for the benefit of all Americans, and ‘Steel on Wheels’ is the perfect vehicle to show how we can make that happen,” Ratigan said in a statement announcing the partnership between Nucor and MSNBC. “There is no better partner for this than Nucor and their visionary CEO Dan DiMicco, a man who is as dedicated to his own extraordinary employees as he is to helping get all of America working again.”

The relationship between Nucor and MSNBC was described at the time by Ad Week as “a first of its kind partnership.” Mediaite, a media outlet that covers the U.S. media apparatus, described one on-air segment of the tour as something which “easily could have been confused for a human resources video to boost Nucor employee morale.”

“Not Josh Fox”

“Steel on Wheels” focused on finding solutions to many problems ailing the U.S., including health care, education, manufacturing, public works and energy.

At the center of the energy portion sat T. Boone Pickens, the Pickens Plan, Clean Energy Fuels and promotion of natural gas vehicles. Days after the three-day (March 30-April 1) energy portion of the “Steel on Wheels” tour ended,Congress introduced the Pickens-promoted NAT GAS Act on April 6, which offered subsidies to the industry to produce gas-powered automobiles and ended up not passing

A planning document for the three-day energy segment shows that anti-fracking voices, such as that of Josh Fox — director and producer of the two “Gasland” documentaries and of the forthcoming film “How to Let Go of the World: and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change” — would not have a slot on the three days of energy-focused episodes. Natural gas receives an explicit mention as a “solution.”

Though Josh Fox gets mentioned as a potential guest who will not receive an invitation, prospective guests listed on the document included climate change denier and U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), former Shell North America CEO John Hoffmeister and Pickens.

Fox ended up as a guest on the show on March 31, 2011. But he was treated in a hostile manner by Ratigan when Fox pointed out that Pickens had money riding on the fracking boom and that the fracking boom could lead to global climate change chaos, water impacts and human health impacts. 

“I get it, you believe that natural gas will ruin the universe and can’t be solved,” Ratigan exclaimed to Fox in closing out the segment. “I want to have a conversation to solve the problem with you. I’m not looking to have a propaganda speech from you more than I am from Boone Pickens or anybody else.”

Pickens though, interviewed the day before Fox on Ratigan’s show, received a much friendlier reception.

Image Credit: Oklahoma State University

“The goal of the Steel on Wheels Energy Summit is to capitalize on the emerging opportunity to address America’s energy problem,” the document reads. “[With] [s]ignificant disruptions in the Middle East and unprecedented opportunities here in the U.S., Free America would culminate its quest to find jobs and solutions for America by highlighting ENERGY as a trillion-dollar problem that we CAN solve and in the process create jobs, capture trillions of value, and create lasting nation (sic) security — and it is (sic) problem both businesses and politicians are ready to tackle.”

“Our Cause”

On March 24, 2011, MSNBC public relations employee Tanya Hayre emailed Jay Rosser — vice president of public affairs for BP Capital, a hedge fund owned by Pickens — to introduce herself and get the ball rolling on logistics for the following week’s episodes and the events surrounding them. In that email, she referred to the need to “drum up press” in service to “further promot[ing] our cause/discussion” and then asked if Pickens could speak with reporters in order to complete that task.

Image Credit: Oklahoma State University

GE’s business interests in natural gas and gas-powered vehicles went unmentioned in the segment, an interview between Ratigan and Pickens, which took place at OSU. OSU’s football stadium is named after Pickens and he is a major donor to the university.

In that interview, Ratigan showered praise on Pickens and called him a “patriot” while not mentioning where Pickens makes his money: from both investing in the natural gas industry and owning a major natural gas vehicles fueling station company, Clean Energy Fuels Corporation, that was actively lobbying for the NAT GAS Act at the time.

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“My recollection is that I was approached by Dylan’s team wanting to factor energy into one of their town halls,” Rosser said via email. “I connected them with OSU, Boone’s alma mater [but] didn’t have any meaningful input into the program outside of Boone’s direct participation (i.e., speaking format, etc.).”

In November 2012, a year and a half after Ratigan’s shale gas-promoting stint at OSU, Pickens’ gas fueling station company Clean Energy Fuels Corporation bought some of GE’s natural gas vehicle fueling equipment as part of its “America’s Natural Gas Highway” marketing effort.

“GE is proud to be partnering with Clean Energy Fuels to develop natural gas infrastructure in the U.S. Clean Energy is an industry leader in pioneering a new way for America to fuel its vehicles and to further gain energy independence,” GE chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt said in a press release announcing the deal. “With an abundance of cleaner, more affordable natural gas here in the U.S., this is an important opportunity for GE to join Clean Energy in changing the way America drives.”

The two companies would later sign another business deal in October 2013, linking them in the effort to beef up the number of natural gas-powered trucks on U.S. highways. GE also promotes its “CNG in a Box” (compressed natural gas) vehicles fueling station equipment on its website.

Lean Right: “They Already Do”

Cenk Uygur, founder and show host of the popular YouTube-based The Young Turks Network and former MSNBC show host, reacted to the news of MSNBC’s looming rightward shift by giving a contrarian take on the announcement. In the past, Uygur said he left MSNBC when he was told by CEO Phil Griffin that “we’re the establishment, and it would be cool to be like outsiders, but we’re not, we’re insiders, and we have to act like it.”

 

New @MSNBC ad says, “People Might Start Accusing Us Of Leaning Too Far To The Right.” I got bad news for you, they already do. #LeanBack

— Cenk Uygur (@cenkuygur) June 1, 2016

 

Right-wing in the Fox News sense of the term? Not quite.

But right-leaning in terms of being a corporate-owned media outlet with business interests that often converge with the stories they cover? As the case of T. Boone Pickens, Dylan Ratigan and OSU shows, without a doubt. 

“MSNBC is a good case study on the parameters of mainstream media. There are certain lines you can’t cross and when people do, there’s consequences,” Michael Arria, author of the book “Medium Blue: The Politics of MSNBC,” said in an email. “Everyone I researched for my book seemed extremely earnest about what they’re doing. Someone like Maddow seems genuinely convinced she can do any story she wants.”

Ratigan did not respond to multiple requests for comment.